CASA GRANDE — Throughout the past year, “pivot” became a key word for the staff and board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor as they worked to continue providing services to youngsters amid a pandemic.
“Last year was a challenge but we continued working to provide a safe place for kids,” said Matthew Lemberg, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor. “We used the word ‘pivot’ a lot because things sometimes changed or were implemented very quickly.”
The youth organization has provided high-impact programs to area young people for 22 years and during the COVID-19 pandemic, its mission did not change.
“Even during the pandemic, we still wanted to inspire and enable all young people, especially those that need us most, to realize their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens,” Lemberg said. And while we’ve had to change some aspects of our programs, we worked hard to ensure that our programs still provided young people with what they need most — a safe place to learn and have fun.”
Operating during a pandemic required some change, including working with limited capacity and adjusting to virtual learning schedules.
In spring of 2020, as school doors closed because of the pandemic, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor also briefly shuttered its programs, including those at its Nap Lawrence Branch. But the facility reopened in a limited capacity shortly after closing to provide services for health care and first responder families.
“We felt that if we could provide that service to health care and first responder families, then they could go out and do their jobs,” Lemberg said.
New safety precautions were put in place to keep kids safe and virus-free while they were at the facility. Kids wore masks, and limited numbers of people were allowed on site. Cleaning and disinfecting increased.
To ensure that teens and high school students were staying productive, in April 2020, the organization took its teen program, The Lounge, virtual, using a program called Discord. The Lounge program previously met in the Vista Grande Library.
By going virtual, the program aimed to reach teens who were struggling academically and socially by providing a way for them to connect with one another. The program includes activities such as art projects or daily conversation starters, such as “would you rather eat a ketchup sandwich or a sriracha (hot sauce) sandwich?”
As the summer of COVID approached, the organization partnered with the city of Casa Grande to offer a temporary all-day program at Len Colla Recreation Center. By the end of the summer, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor opened its first club in Maricopa at Santa Cruz Elementary School.
“And as part of this expansion, we changed our name to Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor to encompass and include all of the communities that we serve,” Lemberg said.
Later in August, the organization opened an additional temporary “Onsite Learning Location” at Mesquite Elementary School and moved the Len Colla program to Palo Verde Elementary School to serve more students while they attended virtual classes online.
Between its four all-day programs, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor served 226 club members.
Prior to the pandemic, the organization had never operated more than one all-day program at any point, Lemberg said.
“And thanks to our partnerships with our local municipalities and school districts, these programs were completely free to all participants,” he said.
In summer of 2021, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sun Corridor will offer programming at three locations — the Nap Lawrence Branch and Len Colla Recreation Center in Casa Grande and the Maricopa Branch. Between the three locations, about 300 kids will be served.